The Seven Deadly Sins (play)

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The Seven Deadly Sins was a two-part play written c. 1585, attributed to Richard Tarlton, and most likely premiered by his company, Queen Elizabeth's Men.[1] The play drew upon the medieval tradition of the morality play; though it was very popular in its time, no copy of either part has survived.

The "plot"[edit]

The play is significant, however, because the "plot" of Part 2 still exists; it was discovered in the cover of a 17th-century manuscript play, The Tell Tale, in the collection of Edward Alleyn's papers at Dulwich College. As the term was used in English Renaissance theatre, the "plot" of a play was a chart that summarized its action; it was posted in the "tiring house" or backstage area of a theatre. The plot of S.D.S. 2 has a square hole punched in its middle, where it was hung on a board for all to read. The cast members of an Elizabethan dramatic production had their own parts written out for them, with relevant entrances and cues — but they did not have their own individual copies of the play text as a whole. So the posted plot was an important resource in keeping the production organized. Surviving Elizabethan plots are extremely rare — only half a dozen exist.[2]

The existing plot for S.D.S. 2 is not from the original production c. 1585, but from a later production c. 1590–91.[3] It was acted by personnel from Lord Strange's Men and the Admiral's Men, and took place at The Theatre, the first of the large public theatres of the Elizabethan era. The plot shows that Part 2 consisted of episodes concerning three of the seven deadly sins, Envy, Sloth, and Lechery; S.D.S. 1 must therefore have dealt with Greed, Gluttony, Wrath, and Pride.

The cast[edit]

That cast included many of the men who would form the Lord Chamberlain's Men in 1594. The plot refers to the production's personnel sometimes under the actors' names, sometimes by nicknames, and sometimes only by their roles; but at least a partial reconstruction of the actors and their roles is possible:[4]

Actor Induction Envy Sloth Lechery
George Bryan Warwick Damascus
Richard Burbage Gorboduc Tereus
"Harry" (Henry Condell?) Ferrex a lord
Richard Cowley a lieutenant a soldier; a lord Giraldus; a musician a lord
Augustine Phillips Sardanapalus
Thomas Pope Arbactus
John Sinkler a keeper a soldier a captain; a musician Mercury (?)
William Sly Porrex a lord
"R. Go." Aspasia
"Kit" a soldier a captain

"R. Go.," the actor (most likely a boy player) who filled a female role, might have been Robert Gough, who was with the Chamberlain's/King's troupe down to 1621. "Kit" might have been Christopher Beeston, who was with the Chamberlain's in the 1598–1602 period.[5] The plot also mentions Robert Pallant, John Duke, and John Holland, all future Lord Chamberlain's Men, and Thomas Goodale, an Admiral's Man.

It is also possible that other future members of the Lord Chamberlain's Men were in the production, but are named in the plot as the characters they played. When the same amalgamation of actors from two companies toured with Alleyn in 1593, Burbage was not present, but Phillips, Bryan, Cowley, and Pope were joined by William Kempe and John Heminges, other members of the team that would enact Shakespeare's plays later in the decade.


  1. ^ Chambers, Vol. 2, p. 125.
  2. ^ In addition to S.D.S. 2, Chambers (Vol. 4, p. 406) lists plots for George Peele's The Battle of Alcazar, and the anonymous and lost plays Dead Man's Fortune, Frederick and Basilea, Fortune's Tennis Part 2, and Troilus and Cressida Part 1 (not Shakespeare's play but another work, perhaps written by Henry Chettle and Thomas Dekker in 1599). A plot for the anonymous and lost Tamar Cham Part 1 once existed and is known from descriptions, but is now itself lost.
  3. ^ Chambers, Vol. 3, pp. 496-7.
  4. ^ Nunzeger, pp. 36, 63, 68, 98 and ff.
  5. ^ Chambers, Vol. 2, p. 302.


  • Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
  • Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearean Stage 1574–1642. Third edition, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Halliday, F. E. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964. Baltimore, Penguin, 1964.
  • McMillin, Scott. "Greg, Fleay, and the Plot of 2 Seven Deadly Sins," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, Vol. 4 (1989), pp. 53-62.
  • Nunzeger, Edwin. A Dictionary of Actors and of Others Associated with the Representation of Plays in England Before 1642. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1929.